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by Ray Fleming

WE all know the tired old joke that diplomats are sent abroad to lie for their country. Diplomats are not greatly appreciated by the general public who think they spend most of their time chatting at cocktail parties. On Tuesday of this week I wrote that for a few days diplomacy would take precedence over all other considerations in the Libya crisis.

And so it has proved. All attention has been focussed on the chamber of the Security Council at the United Nations where fifteen senior diplomats and their staffs have hammered out an unprecedented resolution which gives Britain and France, the United States and as yet unidentified Arab states authority to employ “all necessary measures” to stop Muammar Gaddafi from waging war on his own people.

It has been a remarkable achievement. As a result of America's insistence the scope of the resolution is not limited to the no-fly zone proposed by Britain and France but enables air attacks to be used on Gaddafi's tanks and heavy armour if they are threatening civilians. Getting the words right in the resolution will have been one major diplomatic task but a more difficult one will have been encouraging China and Russia to think that they should abstain from voting rather than use their veto powers. This resolution breaks new ground for United Nations authorised military action; it must be used wisely and well.